Someone You Should Know: Sioux Falls Man Creates Nationwide Cancer Survivor Network
Matt Ellefson was diagnosed with lung cancer and given 8 months to live. Eight years later, Matt is still here. He used those years to change the way patients all over the country fight cancer. He’s given people diagnosed with the disease two precious gifts. The gift of time and the gift of hope and it all started with a promise.
“I’m quite ashamed to say that when I was diagnosed first thing I did was say a prayer”, said Matt. “And what I’m ashamed about is my prayer was, God you haven’t heard from me in a while and I really need you now.”
Ellefson says he wanted to make a difference for others diagnosed with cancer and that is where the idea for SURVIVEiT came from. It is described as the world’s first and only nonprofit cancer care rating resource or as Matt says “The Yelp” of cancer treatment. Survivors rate their care and share information with others about different cancer centers. Matt says people diagnosed with cancer should not just leave it up to their local doctors because they do not always have the latest information.
“It really makes a big difference where you go for your treatment, especially if it’s a late stage cancer, you need to get to the cancer center that’s doing a lot of research on your specific type of cancer.”
For instance, lung cancer is treated differently from breast cancer or bone cancer and the key Matt says is finding the best doctors and research for the cancer you are diagnosed with. His wife Melissa says the need for an organization like SURVIVEiT was obvious to them right away.
“You know with Matt it was terminal advanced lung cancer, and to find someone that could offer him hope was very difficult,” said Melissa. “We could not find anyone who was still alive, and so he wanted to create a platform where, you know those people are out there we just couldn’t find them.”
Survive it helps bring together survivors, patients, doctors and researchers
“There are pockets of research happening all over the country for different types of cancer, said Matt. “And finding those pockets of your type of cancer is really difficult.”
Melissa said “He was given very poor odds, you know 5 percent chance of living beyond 5 years which is not good, but he just knew from the very beginning that if there’s a 5 percent chance he is going to be in the 5 percent, there is no doubt in his mind, and there still isn’t.”
Right now SURVIVEiT helps about 20,000 people a month find that vital information. The website surviveit.org and phone app were developed by survivors for patients. Keep in mind Matt has done all this in between doctors’ appointments, tests and the sheer exhaustion of fighting a disease that wants to kill him. His wife Melissa says helping others has helped Matt.
Melissa said “There have been so many times throughout these eight years where he has been in a hospital bed and counseling other people though their cancer journey and the other person has no idea that Matt is talking to them from his own hospital bed.”
Almost a quarter million people used the free service in 2017. However, Matt says many more people need help and the goal is to scale up the organization to eventually help millions and expand beyond the United States.